Dallas Cowboys Tribute: Darren “The Sheriff Woody” Woodson

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1990’s Dallas Cowboys fans remember him, 60-80’s fans respect him, unfortunately not many 2000’s kids know him, so allow me to reintroduce to you The Sheriff of the Dallas Cowboys secondary: Mr. Darren Woodson. He was arguably the best safety the Dallas Cowboys ever had, and he is my all-time favorite Cowboys player. Darren Woodson often takes a backseat to the other Dallas Cowboys from the dynasty of the 1990’s like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Dieon Sanders, Charles Haley, and the members of the ‘most dominant offensive line of the 90’s. Even Leon Lett get’s talked about due to his follies, but Darren Woodson, who was a big reason the Dallas Cowboys defense was so dominant, rarely gets mentioned.

July 27, 2006 -- ESPN's NFL analyst Darren WoodsonLet’s take a closer look at Darren Woodson’s career:

“Part of the reason I came to the Cowboys was to play with Woody. He was a big hitter and seemed like the leader of the defense.” ” He showed up every day in the offseason to try and improve his game. He didn’t take anything for granted.” — DT La’Roi Glover.

Born April 25th, 1969 in Phoenix, Az and raised by a single mother, Darren Woodson played runningback and linebacker for gang-ridden Maryvale High School. After earning All-Metro Division and All-City Honors as a senior along with scoring 6 touchdowns in a single game, ESPNRISE.com named Darren Woodson as one of the best high school players to ever come out of Arizona. Unfortunately for Woodson, he was ineligible for a scholarship due to academic reasons, so he was a walk on at Arizona State University where he played outside linebacker, yes you read that right, linebacker, not safety. His linebackers coach also happened to be Lovie Smith, yes that Lovie Smith.darren az

His sophomore year at Arizona, not only did Woodson get voted most Improved he also had a 16 tackle game against Stanford. As a senior, Woodson  even lined up as a defensive end. He earned honorable All-Pac 10 mention his sophomore year, Honorable All American as a Junior, and All-Pac 10 as a Senior (he was also named team captain as a senior).From playing inside and outside linebacker to defensive end to then becoming one of the best safeties in NFL history without any previous experience? AMAZING. Dallas Cowboys Darren Woodson was truly a smart, talented, gifted athlete.

“He was committed to being the best player he could be. The reason we were able to do the things we did is because of guys like Darren Woodson.” – Hall f Fame QB Troy Aikman.

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Woodson with the 37th pick (2nd round) in the 1992 NFL draft. He spent his rookie year on special teams before replacing James Washington in 1993; he then worked his way to become one of the most feared safeties in the game. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dave Campo (yes that Dave Campo) deserves some credit for spotting Darren Woodson and believing he could play Safety in the NFL. Who knows where Woodson would’ve landed had Dave Campo not persuaded the Dallas Cowboys to invest a 2nd round pick in him. Darren Woodson quickly established himself with the Cowboys, setting a franchise record for tackles by a defensive back in just his first year as a starting safety. He continued to make Dallas Cowboys history for the rest of his career.

“For me to be playing across from Jerry Rice in the slot as a safety tells you he had faith in my abilities.” — Woodson on Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinaor Dave Campo

woodsonDarren Woodson was always the Sheriff of the secondary and never had his” Buzz Light-year companion”. For a few seasons it looked like Roy Williams would be Woodson’s “Buzz”, but that fizzled out. Roy Williams did enjoy his best seasons with the help and mentoring of Darren Woodson and they were a feared tandem, but after Darren’s retirement, Roy’s play fell off dramatically. Woodson was the silent leader who lead by his actions on the field: he was a ferocious hitter and he had the athleticism to cover anyone. He was actually the Cowboys nickel corner for most of his career; using a starting safety as your nickel or slot corner is unheard of in today’s game.

Darren Woodson’s record for career tackles by a Dallas Cowboy will always be overshadowed by Emmitt Smith becoming the all time leading rusher in NFL history. Woodson is so forgotten and unappreciated  that there are only 2 videos of Darren Woodson on youtube; both clips show him laying the hammer down.

“Darren was a player who could hit, tackle and take charge in the secondary. He did all those things with authority. He made his presence known on the football field, but played within the scheme and played smart. … You win with guys like that.” –  Dallas Cowboys Coach Jimmy JohnsonWOODY

It was truly a sad day for the Dallas Cowboys Nation when Darren Woodson, due to the herniated disc in his back, announced his retirement at the end of the 2004 season. He was the heart and soul of the Dallas Cowboys defense. It has been a revolving door at the safety position ever since. Unfortunately his shoes were too big for anyone else to fill . He has always been a stand up guy, giving back to the community and bleeding blue and silver. Darren Woodson gave us some of the best years while playing under the radar and often going unnoticed. And it is about time Jerry Jones adds him to the Ring of Honor and the NFL recognizes him as one of the best and inducts him into the HoF. He will always be a true Cowboy and a perfect role model for current and future Cowboys players to look up to.

“I laid it on the line every time I put the helmet on.” — Woodson.

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  • Defense 28

    couldn’t agree more chris, charlie waters is my favorate but woody isn’t far behind that’s why I use defense 28 for him. He should definately be in the ring of honor so should cliff harris for that matter.

    • cjwright

      Defense 28 I will tell you that one of the old Cowboys you mentioned made our list of finalists for the Top 10 Candidates for the Ring of Honor, but one of them did not.

      • Defense 28

        cjwright Defense 28 looking forward to the list.

      • ChrisG7

        cjwright Defense 28 also looking forward to that list.

    • ChrisG7

      Defense 28 Great great players, its a shame theres no way to clone them somehow haha. Those were the good days

  • MichaelValentino

    Nicely done, Chris! 
    Woodson was a 5x Pro Bowl and 3x All Pro selection and 3x Super Bowl champion. He is the Cowboys all-time leading tackler (1350) and had 23 INTs. He weighed 215 lb and ran a 4.4 40. He could play LB, safety or slot corner.
    He deserves both the ROH and HOF. He should make the ROH, but the HOF voters tend to slight DC players.
    Link to an old Sports Illustrated article follows.
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1005855/index.htm
    I would agree that he was probably the best safety the Cowboys ever had, over Cliff Harris, Charlie Waters and Cornell Green.

    • ChrisG7

      MichaelValentino Thank you! and i knew i forgot his stats! i was soo caught up and finding pics and videos that i just completely forgot about that. Agree that HOF voters do tend to slight our DC.

      • cjwright

        ChrisG7 MichaelValentino The lack of Cowboys in the Hall of Fame is such a joke it stopped being a travesty a decade ago.

  • Football Mensa

    I met Woodson in Canton when Irvin was inducted to the HOF. The dude is just one of the nicest, happiest guys I’ve ever met.

    • cjwright

      Football Mensa I always thought he would be a kind, polite gentleman, but it nice to have some proof. Thanks for sharing.

      • Football Mensa

        Your’e welcome. I also met Russell Maryland and some others there that day. Etiquette prevents me from sharing all but it was a blast.

    • ChrisG7

      Football Mensa You can definitely get that vibe just from watching him on shows, he seems humble and genuine and your comment just backed it up.

  • I couldn’t agree more, Woody is pretty much impossible to replace. We haven’t had a safety even close to his equal since he left.

    • ChrisG7

      CowgirlCas22 One of the best safeties in nfl history and one of the only reasons i still watch NFL Live lol.

  • cjwright

    Woodson is one of my all time favorite Cowboy defenders, along with Everson Wallas and Dexter Coakley. Woodon was a beast of an athlete: he could hit like a LB and cover like a CB.
    Nice job Chris!

    • ChrisG7

      cjwright Appreciate your feed back cj! it’s sad that i can’t watch any of highlights on youtube or anywhere for that matter. Also those double star jerseys are the best anniversary jerseys ever!

    • Football Mensa

      Everson Walls and Michael Downs. Both started as rookie free agents the same year. Walls had Deion Sanders instincts without the speed. One of my favorite corners ever.
      Poor Coakley, he played on some really bad teams. Dave Campo anyone ?
      Woodson > Ronnie Lott , but Woodson will never get in.
      Too bad Kevin Smith never fully recovered from his torn achilles injury. I truly think he would have gone down as the bext cb in Dallas history if it wasn’t for that fateful night against the Gmen on Monday night football.

  • cjwright

    ChrisG7 could you send me your email?  I misplaced it. cjlandryhat@hotmail.com

  • bighmr

    One of my all-time favorite cowboys (And in my opinion, another very underrated Cowboy), who would’ve been one of the Cowboy’s all-time greats were his Pro Career not significantly shortened due to serious injury, was/is ILB/MLB Dat Nguyen.  In a year that MLB was one of their biggest needs going into the draft, the Cowboys wisely kept it in the Texas family, drafting Nguyen in the 2nd round following a stellar senior year in what was an absolutely brilliant 4-year collegiate career at Texas A&M University; a career which saw him become the first Aggie to ever win the Butkis Award (The award given at the end of the season to the Most Outstanding Linebacker in the Nation/All of College Football)!!!!  Of that particular draft class, not only was Nguyen the most NFL-ready of the bunch, but he was probably the rookie that made the most impact right out of the gate.  Coming into the NFL Draft, a lot of teams passed on Dat Nguyen because many teams considered him, at 5 foot 9 inches tall, too undersized for the next level.  I disagreed then and I disagree now.  I don’t believe the injuries that led to the shortening of his career to be directly linked to the fact that he was/is undersized at the linebacker position.  And what he lacked in height, he certainly made up for in essentially every other area of his game.  The reason I am writing about Dat Nguyen is because I believe there are/were numerous similarities between Dat Nguyen and the subject of this article, Darren Woodson, not the least of which was the crucial leadership role they both played both in the locker room and on the field.  Like Woodson, Dat was always that player that stood out during a game due to his unceasing tenaciousness.  He was one of those rare, high motor type players, that no matter how intense the game and no matter how many plays he was in for during the first three quarters, he always seemed to somehow, almost-supernatural-like, come out in the fourth quarter and play with an even greater level of energy in these end of game / crunch-time situations.  To me, that coupled with the way they were both able to, from a very young age, assume that ‘quarterback of the defense’ role and become impact players and field generals capable of motivating their team in crucial situations.  Also, they both had the unique, on-field ability to somehow (Much like a player such as Ray Lewis) always be around the ball or put themselves in position to make a play on the ball or the ball carrier and very rarely missing a tackle.  Almost equally impressive was the highly professional way they carried themselves both on and off the field.  One of the things I respected the most about both Darren Woodson and Dat Nguyen was the fact that (And this has been / is often the case with many, if not most of the players to play in the league in the past two decades and be considered ‘Underrated’) they did not require all the praise or the pro-bowl accolades, or dwell on their numbers or their incentive bonuses.  They were both the epitome of ‘TEAM PLAYERS’, and every Sunday they were able to put all the off-the-field nonsense aside, and approach the game with the mental attitude that they were going to give 110%, leave it all out on the field, and do everything within their power to put THE COWBOY’S TEAM in the best position to win that they possibly could.  Both Darren Woodson and Dat Nguyen had that ‘Captain of the ship’, ‘Team-First Mentality’ that was absolutely contagious to the players around them (In Woodson’s case I’ll site the example mentioned in this article with Roy Williams).  I believe players like that are the stuff of legends, and in this day in age (With the Twitter ERA, continuing inflation of player contracts, and so forth…), that type of player is becoming a rarer and rarer breed.  Darren Woodson and Dat Nguyen were players with absolutely tremendous work ethics, that understood that the formula to success was to never stop constantly trying to better themselves both on and off the field, and always giving the same level of effort in game preparation as they would in an actual game, that it would translate to both team and personal success.  They figured out early on, that if they did these things, and didn’t get sucked in to the media circus often surrounding high profile athletes, or fall prey to the constant temptations and distractions that plague or stunt many high-potential athletes’ careers, that when it came time for games on Sundays, they’d be able to lace-em up, and simply let their play speak for itself.  And boy did it ever!!!!!!!!!!

    Written by Hayden Rochelle

    • cjwright

      bighmr Hayden, you should pick two other candidates from out Top 10 Series for the Ring of Honor, write something like this about those two, and we will publish it all with other readers’ selections